Ahead of last week’s vice presidential debate, MC contributors Hunter Baker and I wrote as Protestants in praise of Catholic Social Teaching (a version of the piece also appeared over at the Patheos Evangelical channel):

Commentators are already busy parsing the partisan divide between the co-religionists Biden and Ryan, but having Roman Catholics represented in such prominent positions in this campaign and particularly in tonight’s debate is also likely to catapult another player into the national political consciousness: Catholic Social Teaching (CST).

For people of faith, and even for people of no particular faith whatsoever, CST represents a praiseworthy model for responsible civil engagement in a diverse and plural culture.

The debate itself pretty much ended up being a disappointment, particularly with regard to any hopes of elevating the level of our public discourse.

The one question that ended up explicitly touching on the matters of faith and public life in the debate was the final query about Catholicism and abortion. A point that should be reiterated again and again is that Roman Catholic teaching on the dignity of unborn human life should be considered to be a part of and not separate from the broader contours of Catholic Social Teaching. Manfred Spieker made this point quite well in an article that explores Caritas in Veritate not in the first place as an encyclical about globalization but rather about bioethics.

As Spieker concludes, “The defense of the right to life from the beginning until the end of life must be the central consequence for the social doctrine of the Church in its efforts to realize human development.” He points out, too, the artificial truncation of CST on this point:

Evangelium Vitae is a central social encyclical, but in the general public it is not perceived in that way. It is considered to be an important encyclical but an encyclical of moral theology, rather than a social one. In the presence of the social and political changes since the 1970s, that is a reduction of its content. It is a social encyclical but is missing in nearly all collections of social encyclicals.

Indeed, and by contrast, the social and political implications of a claim like this should be obvious: “The right to life, the most basic of all human rights, must be protected by law.”